I have been a mess about my dear Bobby Lee Verdugo‘s death yesterday. For many reasons really. He has been a constant source of love and support since the day that I met him about 15 years ago. A student organizer of the 1968 East LA Walkouts, Bobby continued to advocate for high quality education. He travelled all over the country speaking about his experience with his beloved wife Yoli Rios and always got emotional about their love story. Their love story is only one that movies should be made about! In fact, the movie “Walkout” highlighted their relationship since they were kids in high school. He absolutely adored his family- his daughters were the light of his life, his brothers were his best friends and his parents, his wonderful teachers. He always spoke so lovingly about his incredible maestro, Sal Castro, who was the Chicano educator who called out the injustices the LA Unified school district was perpetuating against Chicano kids. When Sal died, Bobby became even more committed to teach others about Sal’s work, how he motivated students and inspired them and their parents to work for better conditions. Bobby was always very clear that he never wanted to replace Sal, because in his words, he never could. He wanted to honor Sal and his life, his memory, but keeping the struggle for educational justice alive and well. So, that is what Bobby did.
Bobby travelled all over the country- meeting with and inspiring students of all ages. I got to be with him when he spoke to elementary school children at the oldest autonomous Chicano school in Denver, Escuela Tlatelolco. That school was started because of the Chicano leadership of Arturo Rodriguez and other revolutionaries like Corky Gonzales knew that our US schools don’t teach us about us because they are invested in making Chicanos/Latinos think that we are substandard. When in fact, we are descendants of an incredible lineage including the ones who developed the concept of zero.
I saw how children and students hung onto every word. How they ate up their history. How they saw themselves in Bobby, the elder, who was so incredibly funny and witty.
I saw how inspired the college kids were when he encouraged them to follow their destiny and to not believe the systems that told them that they were not good enough. I saw a picture of him with the students of Students for Education Reform a few years ago. I took that picture and now, I wish I was in that picture- because I didn’t take lots of pictures with him. And now, I won’t be able to do that again. I have to remind myself that I have to be visible, for me, for him, for us, for those who will come. I’m still alive to connect the past with the future.
Besides being an incredible advocate who then became my family, he was also my teacher. After he retired from his career in social work, he worked with me at Del Sol Group. He supported me, encouraged me and loved me. He taught me about life. He taught me about what vulnerability and manhood look like. He taught me about forgiveness and regret. He taught me about Buddhism. He taught me about the sacredness of honoring Chicano/Latino men and giving men time to be men. He helped me with my heartbreak and encouraged me to love again. He encouraged me to heal so that I could be a beacon of light for others. He encouraged me to not be afraid of facing dis-ease. He encouraged me to be healthy and sound of body, mind and heart. He taught me to give to others, however we could. And that one of the most amazing things we could give is: our beautiful selves.
He taught me about IN LAK’ECH: YOU ARE MY OTHER ME.
Every year when I asked him to be Santa Claus for the holiday events I was participating in, be it through Community Lawyers in Compton and others, he would do it joyfully. He made the kids laugh and believe in the magic and promise of Christmas. He was the original Chicano Santa Claus. We would go for a bite after the events and talk about how hard it was to be Santa Claus in the hood. Kids just wanted basic things and having to console them and inspire them was hard. We’d cry together often too.
I’ve been devastated because I missed his last call because I was working in another time zone- with a 3 hour difference. I meant to call him back but didn’t want to call too late or too early. And then, like the Buddha says, the problem is I thought I had more time.
I had planned to call him so I could go visit. I had planned to go pick him up and ask him about that thing I hadn’t asked him about. I had planned to talk to him. I knew he was aging, as we all are, but I thought I would see him soon. And now, I have regrets about not doing more to see him recently. I feel like a jerk because I was working so much and didn’t stop working so I could spend living/loving time with him.
Yesterday, as I got word that he had suffered a heart attack in the hospital, I started praying to our ancestors that they welcome him with a Warrior’s dance and prayer. I prayed for his forgiveness that I wasn’t more available recently. I prayed for Yoli and the girls. I prayed for all of us who loved him. I prayed for the seeds that he planted and inspired. I prayed for the connections that he made. I prayed for us: my dear Robert Zardeneta, Maria Villamil, Irene Monica Sanchez, Dra M G. Martinez, Fernando Ramirez, Leticia Chavez, Miquitzli Herrera, Alida Garcia among others who he saw as his legacy.
I told Robert last night that my eyes, body and heart are hurting so much. I told him about my sadness and my regrets of not doing more to be more present. He consoled me beautifully. And then this morning, in the most beautiful way, Bobby consoled me too. This memory of us together in Chicago at the EdLoC Conference when I facilitated a panel with him popped up, Yoli and Arturo talking about Chicano history in the education reform community. I’m so incredibly grateful for the message of love and connection now that he has transcended. Thank you Bobby for sending me that message. I promise to represent you the best way I can for the rest of my time here.
My beloved Bobby, IN LAK’ECH: YOU ARE MY OTHER ME.
I love you.
Alma V. Marquez
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